We all know that to the second catechism question, “Why did God make you?” our answer began with, “To know him.” Today we celebrate the feast of Pope Leo the Great, a man who was most helpful it letting us know God clearly.
We can come to know God through the Gospels and Epistles, but only if we take all the passages, balancing misleading passages against clearer ones. By taking up just single passages, and not fitting them in with the Bible’s total picture, we become like the six blind men of Indonesia who each took hold of a different part of an elephant.
The blind Indonesian who grabbed the elephant’s tail announced, “An elephant is very like a snake.” The man holding his ear said he was like a fan. The blind man colliding with the elephant’s side exclaimed “An elephant is very like a brick wall.” The blind man grasping a tusk was certain of himself. “I am sure that an elephant is vey like a spear.”
A well-meaning Father Arius, coming across Jesus saying “The Father is greater than I” concluded that Jesus was not divine. Manichaeus, a Persian wise man, on reading Paul’s words “I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind,” concluded that we have a second evil creator whom we must serve with sinful indulgences. Eutychius, Patriarch of Alexandria, concluded that Jesus had no separate human nature. Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople, from his reading concluded that Jesus was two separate persons, one human, one divine.
Unlike them, Leo came into adulthood after a wide-ranging submersion in all the Scriptures. His even-handed approach to controversies gave rise to a most extensive correspondence. When he was in his twenties and thirties both the pope and the emperor used him as a trouble-shooter to places where disputes raged. At age forty Leo was an agent for Pope Sixtus’s, settling a controversy in France. Then, when Sixtus died, all of Rome clamored for Leo to return to take over the papacy.-
Leo the Great was patient and kind with people with straying views, but his own rock-hard convictions on the faith gave the Catholic world complete confidence in him. As well he led the whole Catholic Church to accepting the teaching of his successors in the chair of Peer.